“UK’s renewed involvement in Somalia was partly inspired by the terrible suffering of the Somali people” Exclusive Interview with the British Minister for Africa

Somalia has the inherent right to determine its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that is not going to be in the discussion of the upcoming London conference”   FCO Minister for Africa, Mr Henry Bellingham

Friday, February 03, 2012 ( Moment Media )  had an opportunity to interview the UK minister of foreign and commonwealth office for Africa. In this interview, which of course touched a myriad of Somali issues pertaining to the protracted intricate conflict, the Minister enthused about the desire of the government of UK to address the thorny Somali problem which has become now and international problem.  

 “The government of UK’s renewed involvement in Somalia was partly inspired by the terrible suffering of the Somali people for over two decade and the global spillover effect of the Somali conflict in terms of piracy and terrorism on the other hand, said the Minister. Here is the HOL’s exclusive interview

HOL: Since 1991, there has been over 14 conferences on Somalia held outside the country and none has so far produced any tangible results, why do you think this one will be different?

We hope that this conference will be the turning point when the international community realises that success in Somalia will not stem from another peace conference or another pledging conference but from pursuing a more strategic and coherent approach. In other words, this conference is primarily about improving international co-ordination. And the agenda is very much focused on agreeing practical measures. We are still discussing with our international partners what will be announced at the conference, but we hope it will include agreement on: funding for AMISOM and support for the Somali security and justice sectors; what should succeed the transitional institutions after August; the establishment of a Joint Financial Management board to ensure that ordinary Somalis get the most from international aid and their own financial assets; a co-ordinated international package of support for the regions; renewed commitment to tackle the humanitarian crisis and improved international co-ordination on Somalia in general.  We also hope for further commitment to tackle the terrorist threat emanating from Somalia and to build on our work to break the piracy business model.  

For the last twenty years the British government has not been too involved in the political situation of Somalia, what has changed and why now?

The UK has been inspired to act partly by the terrible suffering of the Somali people and partly by the problems that affect us directly. We were profoundly moved by the humanitarian crisis in Somalia caused by the drought. The UK responded generously, providing £57m ($90m) to Somalia alone. This was on top of existing plans to spend £69m a year in Somalia until 2015 in development assistance.  But the suffering and the loss of so many lives during the famine was a wakeup call for the international community and it was against this back drop that the UK began building consensus that it was time for a new approach and plans were laid for this conference.   Also, terrorism and organised crime, manifested in piracy and kidnappings, emanating from Somalia pose direct threats to UK citizens and economic interests.   We are also concerned about unmanaged migration, and the export of instability to Kenya and Ethiopia.  The cost of containing these problems is already high and will continue to grow unless the international community acts. 

We know that you have invited the TFG and other regional authorities to the conference, is there a criteria you used to select the participants since there is more than three or four regional governments or entities?

We are inviting representatives of the Roadmap signatories: Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions, as well as the Presidents of Puntland, Galmudug, and representatives of Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaah. We have also invited the President of Somaliland.  We were keen to ensure that in addition to the TFIS, a range of regional representatives came together in London with the determination to take practical action.   

As you know the Somali Diaspora like the large Somali community in the UK, civil society and local NGOs in Somalia play key roles in the situation of Somalia, and so far they haven’t been invited to the conference. Why they have not been invited?

Because this conference is about international coordination, only governments and multilateral organisations are invited to the day itself.  But we are very keen to use the opportunity of the conference to deepen our engagement with academia, civil society and the Somali Diaspora. In the run up to the conference, British Ministers will hold a series of meetings with NGOs and UK Diaspora community leaders to hear their views on the agenda.  We also encourage Somalis and others to follow the preparations and have their say via the website of the British officewww.ukinsomalia.fco.gov.uk, on facebook at www.facebook.com/ukinsomalia and Twitter, following Twitter hashtag #LDNSomalia.  Our staff are monitoring these channels and you can see how the Special Representative has already picked up some of the public comments for further debate. 

What is the British government’s position towards the sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and political independence of the Somali Republic?

We hope this conference will co-ordinate international action but we recognise that only the people of Somalia can resolve Somalia’s problems in the long term. That is why Somalia needs a government that has the legitimacy of popular support, and is capable of delivering on the Key Transitional Tasks set out in the Djibouti peace process. For our part, we need to work with Somalia’s legitimate leaders both now and following the end of the transitional period in August, to help support them in delivering security, governance and services to their people.  As for territorial unity, it’s similarly the UK position that the regions of Somalia should themselves determine their future relationship. We also think Somalia’s neighbours and other African countries should take the lead in recognising any new political arrangements.  

As you know without strong Somali security forces it will be impossible to pacify the country from al-Shabaab and pirates, is there a plan from the British government in re-establishing the Somali security sector?

We agree and so, as well as boosting AMISOM, the conference also aims to raise international support for the Somali security and justice sectors.  At present the UK contributes to the EU Training Mission to train Somali security forces and continues to work with the Somali authorities, UN and AMISOM to help build a stronger and more accountable security sector. Strengthening accountability and oversight of the forces, including police, is crucial.

What is your message to the Somali people in regards to the Conference?

We are realistic enough to know that Somalia’s problems are complex and will not be solved overnight. We need to build on and support the work of the UN, AU and others.  And we require sustained political commitment and concrete action, including from Somalia’s political leaders. But we also need the support of ordinary Somalis to build the momentum because we have real opportunities in front of us. We have an opportunity to support a more inclusive and representative political process when the Transitional Period ends in August 2012.  We have the opportunity to help people return to Mogadishu and rebuild their lives in that city– thanks to the efforts of the African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM, which has secured most of the city from Al Shabaab. We have the opportunity to further undermine and take action against Al Shabaab and piracy.  And we have the opportunity to reinforce the relative stability in areas such as Somaliland and Puntland.  I hope we can work together to seize these chances.  

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